Meet Fingerprints curator: Alexia Leysen| 17 May 2022
I have always believed that theatre should do nothing but captivate. And what captivates on stage is highly personal. In any case, theatre is valuable when it brings us together in focus, enhances our sense of wonder, reconnects us with our playfulness, makes us laugh, broadens our perspective, or gives us the pleasure of hanging on someone’s lips. When it makes us recognise ourselves in other people’s problems and soften our view of our fellow human being and of ourselves. When it purifies us. Every theatre lover has already experienced this value. Yet, in the light of ecological realities, we cannot ignore it: the performing arts sector, just like any other sector, must accelerate its sustainability. I do not believe that the ecological commitment of companies and producers must necessarily be expressed in the content of their performances. But it must speak from their practice. What is important is how they concretely try to work and live more sustainably and also speak out about this quest offstage: to the people around them, with the institutions they work with, through the (social) media... Because that is how you cause change. Of course, how the theatres, organisations and festivals that surround them reduce their environmental impact is also of enormous importance.
In England, the Arts Council requires all the organisations it supports to keep an annual record of their footprint. Although much has already been made sustainable, it turned out that three years ago, some 700 organisations together had an energy consumption equivalent to 122,000 households, a waste pile of 150,000 tonnes and a CO2 emission as large as 115,000 trees would absorb in 100 years. I do not have these figures for our little country. But everyone realises that, although a lot has already been made sustainable in recent years, our Flemish theatre landscape still has a long way to go to achieve climate neutrality. Making ecological progress is a complex matter. I still find something to hold on to in what I learned during my seven years as campaign leader for Dagen Zonder Vlees (Days Without Meat), the awareness campaign about the impact of animal based food on the environment. The fact that after those seven years, meat consumption in Belgium had dropped remarkably more than in other European countries is not something I say just to congratulate our team. A few principles from this campaign experience can also help in the theatre sector.
1) Create collective awareness.
Speak out: online and live around the table, with your colleagues and all the organisations you work with. A conversation at the beginning of each cooperation can already mean a lot. Every actor, technician, scenographer, costume designer, communications manager, tour planner, production staff member, caterer, etc. will be motivated to go through the entire process to see where things can be done in a greener way throughout the whole process.
2) Look for the advantages.
Many artists know that in the limitation lies the enrichment, so look for what it also offers you. When will less waste of materials, energy, transport, storage space, also save money in the short or long term? When does a more minimalist decor perhaps provide greater narrative power? When does a vegetablebased organic kitchen also lead to a more vital team? When does reusing materials lead to more creative ideas? Benefits can always be found, and so the enthusiasm remains alive.
3) It is a matter of and, and, and.
Solutions must come topdown and bottomup, on a small and large scale, at every level of production. Everything counts. Rental or shared use of materials, no more flying tours, tap water, less printing, no more chemical products. On the Dutch website cultuurzaam.be you can find handy ecochecklists for productions and cultural organisations that bundle many aspects. Everyone I talked to wants a more sustainably coordinated artistic sector. There is a great demand for libraries of materials and technology, to name but a few. But what is pioneering now may become mainstream later. In any case, nothing is as contagious as positive change.
Alexia Leysen is a photographer and theatremaker . Together with Greet Jacobs, she founded BRUT, an open theatre collective. In 2011 she inspired the citizens’ initiative Dagen Zonder Vlees (Days Without Meat), calling for 40 days of vegetarian fasting together. Her photo column DE ZIN appears weekly in De Standaard Magazine.